Boundaries are fundamental to relationship in general and to the therapeutic relationship in particular.
‘Contact is the experience of boundary between “me” and “not-me’
…Relationship grows out of contact. Through contact people grow and form identities.’
Our sense of boundary is something that is dynamically changing moment by moment, especially in situations that are in any way emotionally charged, such as the consulting room.
The body is continually offering information about the state of our boundaries and the quality of our contact. It may also be offering suggestions as to how we may best regulate our contact and maintain, or relax our boundaries. All too often we may not be attuned to the wisdom our bodies are offering.
Tuning in to our body awareness can enable us to recognise our boundaries and to take care of ourselves, sustaining a resourceful state as we work with even the most distressed or distressing clients.
This ability is vital for the practitioner’s self-care in preventing vicarious traumatisation and burnout, as well as enabling us to be appropriately available to the needs of our clients.
In Help for the Helper, The Psychophysiology of Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma: Self-care Strategies for Managing Burnout and Stress (p103)
Babette Rothschild cites research to show that:
“In those clinicians who indicated lower incidence of vicarious traumatisation, body awareness was the key…
“Again, common sense: The more adept you become at recognising, tracking, and evaluating the level of arousal in your own body, the better you will be able to regulate your arousal and mediate your own risks for compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout.”
Making conscious and experimenting with the underlying “somatic markers” (Damasio) for boundaries and contact is a revelation not to be missed. To purloin a phrase from Allan Schore, it is a part of the craft that underlies “the science of the art of psychotherapy.”
Once a felt sense of boundary is established it is possible to learn simple, somatic ways of deliberately firming up or softening our boundaries. We can also refine our sense of the boundaries of the other, and what this may imply.